The Legal Sector and presenteeism: benchmark insights

Feb 5, 2024 | Blog

You wake up with streaming eyes, a congested nose, and a banging headache. It’s official: you’re ill. The trouble is, it’s a Tuesday and you’ve got deadlines, external meetings, and a pile of paperwork to get on with. You have two options:

A) Call in sick and go back to sleep

B) Log on anyway – you’re working from home, after all

If you chose option B, that’s called presenteeism (or e-presenteeism, if you like). So why is it not the best course of action? Let’s explore with a focus on the legal sector.

What our benchmarking data tells us about the legal sector:

  • It has a lower sickness absence rate than the UK average – 1.2% lower!
  • Also saw 3.2 lost days per person in 2022, compared to 5.7 across all industries 

We’ve introduced benchmarking to our platform (which you can use for free!), and it’s given us some powerful insights into different industries. For the legal sector, we saw a low rate of sickness leave and lost days in general. 

The next step is to ask why, and whether presenteeism may be at play here – especially since this industry is renowned for its long days and hard work. 

Presenteeism: meaning, risks, causes

Presenteeism refers to working through illness, even when, really, you feel too unwell to do your duties. It’s not that unusual – 53% of employees did it in the last few months of 2022, and 87% had been aware of it within their organisation. 

What’s the problem with that? Although having less people off sick sounds great, research suggests a whole host of negative consequences – higher mistake-making, lower productivity and morale, exhausted employees, and the spread of illnesses to the wider organisation. Not great at all. 

So why do people work when they’re ill? As discussed, presenteeism is closely linked to having a higher workload. The more on your plate, the less likely you are to leave it for another day. But research also suggests this pressure to keep going is primarily internal, rather than explicitly due to manager influence. And that makes it challenging to tackle.

E-presenteeism: an unintended consequence of remote work

E-presenteeism is when people keep working remotely when unwell, as the name suggests. And on some levels, it seems like a win – the organisation doesn’t miss out on your output, your employees don’t have to worry about your germs, and you stay on top of your deadlines. 

But this has become part of a broader issue with remote work, and visibility being perceived as productivity. The expectation to be ‘always online’ as a result of remote working doesn’t help the previous problems that presenteeism brought – like exhausted and lowered productivity. Instead, it makes it worse. 

The legal sector and stress: say no to the status quo

There’s a long-discussed wellbeing crisis in the legal sector, and the pressures of presenteeism are the last thing its employees need. It’s time for legal leaders to guard against this however they can – whether literally leading by example and taking time off when unwell, or encouraging more open conversations about mental and physical wellbeing.

3 ways benchmarking can help you tackle presenteeism 

1. Compare your sickness absence rate to the industry average: by seeing how you compare to industry benchmarks, you factor in the specific pressures that your sector faces – giving you a sense of whether your rate is disproportionately higher or lower. 

Don’t forget: meeting or undercutting the benchmark doesn’t mean there’s no work to be done.

2. Compare your organisation to itself in previous years: benchmark yourself to understand if there’s an increase or decrease in sickness absences, so you can investigate what factors are driving that.

3. Compare different groups or teams within your organisation: certain demographics or departments may be experiencing higher sickness absence rates, and that’s crucial to spot early so you can start to ask why.

Benchmarking is the first step, of course. Once you’ve identified a potential issue, you need to look into what’s driving it. That will give you the building blocks to make some positive changes.

Qlearsite can help you spot (and solve!) presenteeism – for free!

Our platform offers you the combination of benchmarking, people metrics, and employee surveys – giving you all the tools you need to identify issues – like presenteeism – and find practical ways to improve your organisation. 

Sign up for free, connect your HR platform, and find out for yourself.

Get started with Qlearsite